Before my daughter was born, I thought about the type of measures my husband and I should take to ensure her safety. We considered the ways to keep her safe from physical harm and reduce her exposure to toxic everyday chemicals such as paints and finishes, cleaning products, pesticides, and fragrance (phthalate) laden products.
But one category that I think we missed or underestimated is flame retardants. The more I dig into this topic, the more unsettling it becomes. Flame retardants are in a vast majority of household goods from televisions to couches to mattresses. They can even be found in your child’s sleepwear and car seat. A study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that U.S. toddlers and preschoolers typically have three times the amount of flame retardant based chemicals in their bloodstream than the mothers of the same group. This is such a major concern because the chemical tainted dust from our household products “sticks” to the surfaces children touch and mouth on a daily basis. The chemicals affect neurological and reproductive development and the long-term effect is unknown.
So if these chemicals are so toxic, why are they in so many of our products? Obviously fires are a big concern, but what is riskier: the potential flammability of a product or the chemicals used to stop flammability of consumer products? One of the major reasons why flame retardants have found their way into so many products is because of the passing of California’s Technical Bulletin 117 which requires that upholstered furniture sold in California be able to withstand 12 seconds of open flame. Unfortunately, this mandate also applies to juvenile furniture and has encouraged the addition of retardants to a wide spectrum of products sold nationwide.
If all of this seems overwhelming to you or upsetting, you’re not alone. I have a hard time grasping why these dangerous chemicals have any right getting near my precious baby. I also don’t appreciate feeling like I need a PhD in chemistry to understand the risks as well as to find safer products. I do have a few suggestions, however:
- Reduce your family’s exposure as much as possible. Vacuuming (with a HEPA filter) and dusting daily (or as often as possible) will reduce exposure. Eat more fruits and vegetables, thus reducing exposure to chemicals that accumulate in animal fats. Don’t allow children to play with electronics such as cell phones and remotes. As you replace furniture, ask manufacturers what is in their products. Dress children in natural fabrics and avoid clothing that says “flame resistant” on label. And please, wash your hands before you eat!
- Support legislation to enforce testing chemicals for safety and consider joining up with other local moms to write and lobby your representatives. The more we parents join together to express our concern, the more likely change will happen!
What tips do you suggest for reducing your family’s chemical exposure?
Kate likes to drive her husband nuts by jumping down the rabbit hole of researching ways to make their home safer. Much to her husband’s dismay (and her delight), she recently chucked two old, fraying, salmon-colored (read: hideous) armchairs. The upside is that her living room now seems much lighter and larger. When she’s not calculating her next move in the battle against toxic chemicals, she enjoys exploring her new city with her little one and hubby.